The Fierceness of Nature

The sea was angry that day, my friends. Seriously angry. Waves pounding the rocks at Schoodic Point in Acadia, remnants of Hurricane Jose.

Phil LaBelle, 2017.

I—and many others—sat transfixed by the constant crashing of saltwater. Some had even brought beach chairs to enjoy the show, eating peanuts while taking it all in.

Nearing the End

I’m down to just a few more days in my sabbatical. I saw a few parishioners around town and in the parking lot last week as I was home with my family (who has returned to full school year mode). This week I’m tenting at a campsite near Acadia National Park, soaking in a last few days of the outdoors at a time when I’m usually in full getting things done mode at our parish with a return to an active schedule.

Phil LaBelle, 2017.

There’s a light rain today; I’m sitting under a tarp at the picnic table. I’ve been reading a book this morning on wilderness spirituality as a drank my coffee.

Time Alone in the Wilderness

Last week I paddled with two other men in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) in Minnesota and Canada. I traveled with Renewal in the Wilderness—an organization that hopes to bring refreshment to those in helping professions like clergy, social workers and teachers by having them get out into the wilderness. Over the course of seven days we canoed in a dozen different lakes with ten portages from about 100 feet to three quarters of a mile. All told we traveled thirty miles.

Watching the moonrise from our campsite. Phil LaBelle, 2017.

I’ve never been in a place like the BWCA before. After the first two lakes, no motor boats were allowed. Additionally, local aircraft cannot fly over the designated wilderness area. Campsites dot the lakes and are limited to a single group. The week after Labor Day brings fewer people—and fewer mosquitoes—along with the beginnings of a Fall chill. While we saw other paddlers from time to time, we generally were alone breathing in the pine scented air and listening to the slight wish of the paddles.

The Desert’s Great Gift

The great gift of deserted country to us is solitude, the chance to be alone before God. This gift may also be the desert’s greatest terror, however….  We are left by ourselves, and suddenly we are faced with the question of what that self really is…. The desert lacks everything except the opportunity to know God.” — David Resenberger

Phil LaBelle, 2017.

Descents

Final Days on Mt. Kilimanjaro

Every hiker knows that once you reach the summit you’re only halfway. Unless there’s a gondola waiting for you at the top—anathema to peak baggers—you’ve got to hike back down. And often that hike is harder than the one that got you to the top.

Phil LaBelle, 2017.

After reaching the very top of Africa, we took about 35 minutes to soak it all in. The weather was spectacular, so we took pictures and cherished the view. But you don’t hang around too long at 19,000 feet. The lack of oxygen starts getting to you. So down we went.

On Top of Africa

Day 7 on Mt. Kilimanjaro

We made it!

Our group and guides at the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro. Phil LaBelle, 2017

On August 14, 2017 at 11:45am Noah and I and our entire team reach Uhuru Peak at 19, 340 feet. We began with a 2am wake up call, breakfast and preparing to leave. Zippers on the tent had frozen overnight in the cold and previous day’s rain. But the skies were now clear and the temps were chilly. Just before we were set to depart, Noah began overheating. He’d put on a number of layers including my puffy coat to fight the cold, and as we got outside his body just started getting too warm.

Getting to Base Camp

Day 6 on Mt. Kilimanjaro

And now we are five.

Near base camp. Phil LaBelle, 2017.

This morning we had a sad departure as both Craig and Barry had to head down the mountain for medical attention. Both had been experiencing the effects of altitude sickness over the last couple of days and especially last night and this morning. One of the reasons we all chose Tusker was for their focus on safety. Unfortunately it meant saying goodbye to two wonderful men at least for now. (We hope to see them when our group descends in a couple days and get back to our hotel.)

Walls, Perseverance and Barry

Day 5 on Mt. Kilimanjaro

Today we conquered the Barranco Wall. It looms large on most Kili hikes as it stands 850 feet above Barranco Camp, and it’s the first thing you do after breakfast and heading out. It’s primarily a scramble, working your way over rocks and boulders via a number of switchbacks. You use hands and feet to pull yourself up at some points and slowly make your way to the top. We go slowly—”Pole! Pole!” in Swahili—and it’s great preparation for the pace to the summit.

Noah, Barry and I at Karanga Camp with the Kili summit in the background. Phil LaBelle, 2017.

While Noah and I had a blast—it reminded us of the Beehive Trail in Acadia—others not so much. Especially Barry.

A Reflection On Africa

A Guest Post from Noah LaBelle

“It’s different cultures that make the world go ’round at the end of the day.” -Samantha Fox

Noah LaBelle, 2017.

When I was about to start the trip to Africa, all I was thinking about was the mountain, not anything else about the trip as a whole. Not the fact that I would get to experience something that I had never experienced before. I had been to 2 different countries outside of the USA before I went to Tanzania, the UK and Canada. Before I flew from the Amsterdam airport to Kilimanjaro International Airport, my American body had never touched down onto second world soil, let alone be among the ones on third world ground. When people ask about the adventure, they only ask about the mountain. They have no idea it was so much more.

Gaining Elevation and Giving It Back

Day 4 on Mt. Kilimanjaro

We hiked up to Lava Tower Camp this morning getting us to over 15,200 of elevation. It’s an acclimatization climb to see how we do at the higher elevation—Lava Tower sits at about the same elevation as our base camp prior to summiting. As the name implies, there’s a huge rock formation made out of lava that looks to be another 800+ feet tall from the camp area. We’re closer to Kibo, the summit of Kilimanjaro, and see the results of that volcanic eruption so many years ago.

Looking toward the summit. Phil LaBelle, 2017.

With the tower of lava came more boulders. Big, dark rocks that we had to maneuver around on the trail. Noah and I had seen similar trails in the White Mountains except they’re littered with granite and other light colored rocks. But getting around boulders at 15,000 feet is another thing entirely. We could really feel the lack of oxygen as we hiked.